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Oak Hill, a four-story brownstone in the dense downtown Minneapolis neighborhood of Loring Park, has declined precipitously over the past year, prompting the city to find out if the owner is willing to sell it.

Once relatively affordable housing with studio units for working-class tenants, the 40-unit apartment building at 200 Oak Grove St. in the last few months has been condemned, boarded and repeatedly broken into.

Several fires erupted there this month, including one last week, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department. While no injuries were reported, firefighters found evidence that occupants used extension cords and bed sheets trussed to upper-story window frames to get in and out.

"These old buildings, they don't have sprinkler systems, so if there's a fire and it spreads, it could spread very easily," said Gary Simpson, a neighbor and former board chair of Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC). "If you get 15 mile per hour winds … you're going to get debris that flies up in the air and lands on other roofs."

The building's decline and its mysterious owner, C. David George — who did not respond to requests for comment — have been the subject of many CLPC discussions over the years, said board chair Lee Frelich. George has never appeared in person to address his neighbors' concerns, and the landlord's reasons for not maintaining 200 Oak Grove St. in a livable condition aren't understood, Frelich said.

Hennepin County records show George is paid up on his property taxes of nearly $60,000, despite ostensibly collecting no revenue since the building was registered as vacant and condemned last year. Since then, the city has charged him nearly $39,000 in special assessments, including the cost of boarding up and re-boarding the building.

Minneapolis inspection reports show broken doors and windows, missing fire alarm systems and trashed units powered with extension cords connected to hallway outlets.

Condemning the building for its many safety hazards, repeatedly trying to secure it and charging the property owner for that cost is pushing the limits of what the city can do, said Regulatory Services Director Saray Garnett-Hochuli.

"The highest and best use is to have it functioning and meeting standards and being rented," she said. "However, if the property owner does not have a need to do that, it is their prerogative not to. … It's not like we can take his property."

Garnett-Hochuli said city staffers are scheduled to meet with George this week to find out whether he would be open to selling the property to other interested parties who would maintain it.

"The issue is, how do we get this building out of his hands and into compliance to be a positive impact in our affordable housing crisis," said City Council Member Lisa Goodman. "That has to be the goal — not for the building to burn down or for it to be more securely boarded and vacant."

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has been in contact with Loring Park residents about the situation as well.

"Our office has been notified about concerns regarding this property and are considering our options to ensure that individuals at and near the property are safe," according to a statement from Freeman's office.